Jan 17, 2009

Today we left Bobo and drove south to Banfora looking for waterfalls and some backroads to explore. Banfora is the main sugarcane producing area for BF so nearly all the flat growing areas are taken up by sugarcane fields. Coming into the area, we passed several small streams that were barely running and realized that any waterfall we might find would likely have little water as well and be not worth the trouble of trying to find. Then as we made our way across town, and out towards a back route into Mali that looked promising on paper (the map), after just a few miles the road turned into a washboarded mess of potholes and bull-dust. We stopped to discuss whether we really wanted to drive for two days on a road that could rattle our tooth-fillings loose, and decided to give it a pass. We did find a different route that took us past the sugar refinery, a couple of small villages and into the bush. This was a nice option for our last night in BF.

Jan 18, 2009

Border crossing day as we arrived at the BF/Mali border. Being a Sunday, the road was empty and the border empty of just about all traffic. After arriving at the BF Douanes (Customs) we were informed that we had missed a required police control stop a couple of miles back.  We had noticed the police stop as we passed but nobody waved us down so we didn't realize that it was a mandatory stop, but with cell phones the police could call ahead to the border. So we retraced our steps so that the police could keep track of all vehicles and drivers passing this way. Then it was back to Customs to have our Carnet signed, then down the road to Passport control to get our exit stamps.

The Mali border post was several miles down the road, a common practice where most countries tend to have, more or less, a no-man’s land between borders. When we applied for our Mali visas back in Morocco, we had requested multiple entry visas since we knew that we would be traveling through Mali both on our way south and back north again. Generally visas are good for a minimum of three months, but for some reason our Mali visas were only good for a month. Unfortunately we didn’t notice this until we had left the consulate, so there was nothing we could do about it. We just figured that we were out the extra cost and would have to pay for yet a second visa when we arrived back at the border. Surprisingly, when we arrived at the border, the police asked if we had a visa, we said yes, and they just stamped us into the country without checking the expiration date. Great luck for us! Then it was next door to Customs to get their stamp on our carnet. All in all we spent less than an hour crossing the border. This has been our experience at nearly all the borders, we haven’t run into any unnecessary delays, unwarranted searches or requests for payment for any services.

We stopped for lunch at a waterfall, it was still flowing but based on the size of the river channel, the waterfall would be much more impressive during the rainy season. There was even a nice bush camp overlooking the river, but since it was only lunch time, we decided to drive for a few more hours before making camp. The drive was pretty uneventful, other than having to negotiate our way through Mali’s second largest city on market day – which we did so easily that we even stopped at an ATM to get some extra cash.  Our bush camp was just a short ways off the road yet we were pretty much invisible as we parked behind a row of trees.  Along the base of the trees were a bunch of strange looking termite mounds that look amazingly like large toadstools.

Jan 19 – 21, 2009

These past three days have just been spent driving. Other than our drive back through Bamako, our route has taken us back over roads and through villages that we had already travelled and visited on our way south. The roads, although paved, are not exactly high-speed highways and our average speed barely even reached 40 mph. The highlight of travel was the night that we spent bush camping in the company of a forest of Baobob trees. Their tortured looking shapes make eerie silhouettes against the darkening sky. The nights were amongst the clearest we’ve had lately giving us an incredible star lit sky with the Milky Way shining brightly.

Jan 22, 2009

Last night we passed through Kayes, our final city in Mali and camped in the bush where we were visited by a couple of goat and sheep herders. This morning we arrived at the Mali/Senegal border. Once again we were quickly through border controls and then crossing the bridge over the Senegal River into Senegal.  The Senegal side was jam packed with trucks filled with merchandise waiting to cross the border.  The drivers parked anywhere they pleased, effectively creating a slalom course through town and out onto the highway.

Stopping to get our carnet stamped, we were told that it wasn’t necessary as we were tourists and only commercial vehicles needed to get stamped. Well, we hope this doesn’t come back to bite us later, so we continued into the country without customs documents for our Fuso. After a quick stop at the police control (same ole driver/vehicle information) we were directed into the center of town to an unlikely area where the Immigration Police offices were. Yes, they were in this out of the way location, we got our passport stamps and then made our way back the way we had come to get onto the road leading into the heart of Senegal. (Yeah, new country.)

We were driving on the “new” road, that is recently paved – although you’d be hard pressed to believe it. Our slalom driving skills got a major work out as we dodged potholes for the next three hours until we reached Tambacoumba. There we found the main highway closed for re-paving, a process that had cut the city in half for the past year. We wandered around for an hour trying to find an appropriate city camp, finally agreeing to a price to “camp” in the parking lot of a large hotel. Lucky for us, we could pick up a weak wifi signal and thus get our emails. We even treated ourselves to a dinner out, next door at a small auberge (hotel) where we got plates of typical Senegalese food that was excellent – beef in a spicy peanut sauce over rice.

Jan 23, 2009

Slow start today, we did some much delayed internet work and tried to do a little shopping before heading down the road about 80km/50miles to Moleho Koban Nat’l Park. We were hoping to camp in the park tonight but when we arrived at 4pm we were told that it was now mandatory to have a guide with us while in the park. Since we were only planning to camp tonight, it didn’t make sense to bring along a guide and feed him too. So we stayed at the locally run campament just behind the ranger station. We were directed to camp between a couple of the cabins.  Here we met a father and daughter from France who told us about their visit to the park with their small rented 4x4. From our talk and from seeing all of the scratches on their vehicle, it became apparent that the park’s roads are actually very overgrown tracks that we would likely be too big in the Fuso to get through. Now why didn’t the rangers say anything about that to us? Were they only interested in getting our money, makes one stop and think.

Jan 24, 2009

Since it appeared that we would be unable to drive the Fuso through the park we decided that we would drive along the main road, which incidentally also cuts across the park, to check on the state of some of the other roads and to check out some of the other camping possibilities.  Sure enough, we found out that the tracks were in fact too narrow for us to negotiate without damage to our vehicle. And when we arrived at one of the highly recommended hotel/camps, we found that it was closed and now occupied by the military!

Well, we continued driving through the park on the main road just to see what we might see, and we got really lucky. We saw troops of baboons crossing the road and were able to stop and watch them for a while. We saw little marmot-like animals, about 40 of them! Then as we were stopped trying to follow them with our binocs, a large group of monkeys decided to check us out. Obviously other tourists have fed them as the monkeys seemed to have no fear of us and quickly surrounded the Fuso, we counted about 20 monkeys. One of the more bold monkeys actually climbed up onto our mirrors trying to get inside. We got some great photos. Funny, but in the hour that we were stopped, no other vehicles drove past.



We even saw a group of warthogs meander by.  Although we couldn’t drive deeper into the bush to visit more of the park, we couldn’t say that we wasted our time coming to the park. Oh yes, did I mention we saw a couple of crocodiles in a waterhole near the military/old hotel camp? Satisfied, we returned back to Tamba and our hotel camp for the night.


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